Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Les Paul 1915-2009
One of my earliest entries on the PM blog was something about Les Paul. So a great shame then, to hear the sad news of his death last week, almost two years to the day since posting it.
How different would our record collections sound without Les Paul's contribution to guitar construction, technique and music methodology? A true pioneer and godfather of guitar, who, as Keef points out "taught himself to play guitar in order to demonstrate his electronic theories". Les literally created, shaped and sculpted the sound and tools for rock's tradesmen to take forward: solid body electric guitars, multi-track technology, overdubs, high speed soloing. Pretty much all the conventions of modern rock then.
There's an almost limitless pool of tribute tunes and riffs to choose from, either written or played on, by legends whose signature sound comes from a Gibson 'Les Paul' - try to imagine any of these without the weight and wallop of an 'LP' underpinning them..
Whole Lotta Love
20th Century Boy
It wasn't always this way. Post rock 'n' roll boom, Jet-Age guitarists such as James Burton, Steve Cropper, Hank Marvin, Jeff Beck, Bob Bogle wanted shiny new Fenders in sci-fi colours. Gibsons were too expensive, too cumbersome and too reminiscent of big bands and the Palais age to be lusted after by young fret-fiddlers.
Ironically it was a player now forever twinned with Fender that brought Gibson and Les Paul out of the post R 'n' R wilderness and into the R.O.C.K arena. Eric Clapton was the first rocker to realise the physical weight of Gibson LP and it's 'mahogany tone', would add warmth and sustain to his soloing. Plugging in and over-driving his Les Paul through a Marshall amp, Clapton created thunderous tones of previously unheard heaviness, and the classic rock rig (Gibson 'Les Paul' and a Marshall amp) used by an endless list of fret-melters since. It's not much of a stretch to suggest that any 'Les Paul' player whether guitar legend or have-a-go hero whose strummed or soloed on any LP model since the sixties are indebted to this monumental moment.
I'm no Clapton fan but his raw-ramped, riff-ripping work on The Bluesbreakers 'Beano' album is the shape of things to come. Add in it's moment of pivotal importance in rock and guitar history and you have possibly one of the finest tributes you'll find to the legacy of Les Paul.
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton - Steppin' Out
The Les Paul player that got me playing Steve Jones
My home-pimped Steve Jones look-a-like LP